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The New York Times, January 18, 1891, p. 10:




    ...As seen from the sea, San Juan consists almost entirely of a series of massive fortifications, that collectively form the castle, as the Spaniards call all their big forts, although this has little of the appearance that is commonly supposed to belong to a castle. It is a town--a city--of forts and batteries, all built of stone, rising one above another, crowding and jostling each other. When it was built it must have been nearly impregnable; and even now, although modern guns would soon reduce the stone works, the place could, in a few days, from its commanding situation and other natural advantages, be made into a stronghold.

    The buidings are in such excellent repair that they seem almost out of place in a Spanish colony. There is none of the picturesque ruin that adds to the beauty of the reknowned Morro at Havana or the other Morro at the entrance to Santiago.
    Near one of the forts stands a low stone building, the size of a small cottage, with an immense stone chimney rising from it.
    "Is that a smokehouse?" I ask, "that small building with the great chimney?"
    "No," I am told, "that is the powder magazine."
    "And why a chimney for a powder magazine?"
    "That is not a chimney," is the reply; "it is a stone column to support the lightning rod."
    A rich port indeed (for that is the English for the name of Porto Rico) this must be where they can afford to build a stone column fifty feet high to support a lightning rod.

    But there are no signs yet of any town save a few buildings on the hilltop. The pilot has come on board and taken command of the bridge... We go in through a channel a few hundred feet wide, and although the harbor opens out as we enter, the ship channel does not widen, as we can see by the lines of buoys. As we creep further and further in, sweeping around to the eastward, the city of San Juan, the capital of Porto Rico, lies before us. Now we see the lay of the land, and the mystery of the hidden city is explained.
    The town lies on a rocky peninsula, shaped like the narrow end of a long, curved squash. This peninsula is an island, in fact, being separated from the mainland by an insignificant inlet a few miles down the coast. In front of the peninsula is the sea, behind it the harbor. The land rises somewhat abruptly to a height of perhaps 200 or 250 feet. On the seaward slope are the fortifications, on the harbor slope is the city.

    A relic this of the savage state of mankind only a century of two ago, when San Juan was founded. Here is probably the finest site for a city in the whole West Indies, with a steep slope to the water before and behind, the placid sea in front, and in the rear, some miles away, the mountains. But San Juan was begun in the days of pirates, adventurers, and almost constant wars, when all cities, but particularly these towns in the West Indies, belonged to whoever was strong enough to take and keep them. An unfortified city would have had no chance at all, so two-thirds of this San Juan peninsula was turned into a fort to guard the one-third that was left for the city. The castle of course took not only the larger but the better part, planting itself on the hilltops and the side facing the sea, where there is always a cool breeze. On the slope toward the harbor so small a space is left that the houses are crowded together and are in general taller than West Indian houses. In addition to the castle, or perhaps as a part of the fortification, a great wall was build around the city, which is kept in such good order that it is as perfect to-day as it was a century ago. The city, however, has outgrown the wall and many buildings are now outside.

    As we rounded the curve into the harbor we found the first decided evidence that we were in the tropics. It was late in November when we left New-York and the weather chilly, and on the water we did not suffer from the heat...
    We were officially received, of course, by two Custom House officers; they were on board, I think, before the anchor was dropped, and they remained on the ship while she lay at St. John. We "let go" about three hundred yards from the wharf, and within a few minutes Mr. Fernandez, one of the agents of the line, was on board, and the small boat that was to be our constant attendant was alongside. Our running ashore on the previous night was instantly the great topic of conversation, for the agents at Arecibo had hastily telegraphed to St. John for tugs to help us off--tugs that I think existed only in imagination, for I did not see one in the harbor while I was there. There was a small steam ferryboat constantly crossing to a village on the other side of the harbor, but she could not have ventured beyond the fort.

    We found the weather at San Juan rather more comfortably warm, even on board ship. We were in about latitude 17°, on a level with the south side of San Domingo and the north side of Jamaica, several hundred miles lower than Havana. Down in the cabin everything was blistering, even in the early morning, and under the circumstances we were in no haste to go ashore, but first ate breakfast deliberately and then rubbed off the evidences of a seven-day voyage. Those starched linens were so bright and stiff when we brought them out for the first time since leaving New-York--they were so limp and helpless ten minutes afterward!

    About 10 o'clock Capt. Godfree, Mr. Friedlander, and I stepped into the little boat the Anita, crawled under her low awning, and in five minutes were set ashore at the best and prettiest landing place in the West Indies, that at Havana not excepted. The city wall here is five or six hundred feet back from the water, and the landing place is directly opposite one of the gates, with a street running from the gate to the water. Immediately around the landing is a charming little park, kept in perfect order, with iron railings to protect the beds of the brilliant flowers, and at the water's edge a stone-paved plaza, solid stone steps to land upon, and seats under the trees to rest upon.
    Instead of going at once through the gate into the city, we turned to the right to the office of Latimer & Fernandez, the company's agents, to whom I had a letter of introduction. Mr. Latimer I found to be an American, a Philadelphian, and while the Captain transacted his business in the office, Mr. Latimer gave me a store of information about Porto Rico...

    To go anywhere in San Juan it is necessary to ascend or descend a hill. The north-and-south streets are steep hills and the east-and-west streets are moderate hills. It is necessary always to walk, for there are no public carriages and very few private ones, and no street cars or other conveyances. The population is large enough to warrant such things, being about thirty thousand, but the hills are so steep and the city is so compact, covering so little ground, that they would not be of much use.
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    Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (US): Populated for centuries by aboriginal peoples, the island was claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1493 following Columbus' second voyage to the Americas.
    In 1898, after 400 years of colonial rule that saw the indigenous population nearly exterminated and African slave labor introduced, Puerto Rico was ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War.
    Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917. Popularly-elected governors have served since 1948. In 1952, a constitution was enacted providing for internal self government. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose to retain commonwealth status.
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Puerto Rico Capital: San Juan

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    In our walk through the city that morning I found it to be the best-kept and cleanest city I have seen in any Spanish country. It has not, of course, the wealth or the grandeur of Havana, but it is in much better order. The streets are broader than in the old parts of Havana, there is a good system of sewerage, and plenty of lights, both gas and electric. There are good broad sidewalks and well-paved roadways. The houses are mostly of brick or stone, cemented on the outside, and this cement is kept in good repair and well painted or whitewashed. Rain water is used exclusively, caught from the roofs and stored in stone tanks. This is the grand city of Porto Rico, and the Porto Riconians are justly proud of it, rarely calling it by name, but speaking of it always as "the city" or "el capital."

    Our first objective point was the café. Every Spanish city, of course, has its café, and San Juan has two. We chose the one on the corner opposite the great cigar factory, "Los dos Antilles," because it was the nearest. and found nearly all its marble tables in use already, although the Porto Rico breakfast hour, 11 o'clock, had barely arrived.

    There are only two meals a day in Porto Rico, breakfast at 11 and dinner at 5, and everybody, rich or poor, must eat at those hours, or go without. Breakfast is the more important meal of the two, to be taken with great deliberation and solemnity and soup and Spanish wine, and all the public offices from 11 till 1 while the officers go to breakfast. The café, however, is not a place to eat, except such light things as cakes and ice cream. It is devoted to drinking and smoking and talking, and it is such a universal place of resort that one is reasonably sure in the course of an hour or so of seeing all his male acquaintances there. It has none of the obstreperous features of an American bar, and light and cooling drinks were in far greater demand than strong liquors.

    There was a delightfully cooling appearance in the great "schooners" of lemonade they were serving out, and it was comforting to know that manufactured ice is sold in San Juan cheaper than we could buy the natural article in New-York last Summer. They do not, however, cool the lemonade to an alarming extent with it, merely dropping in a bit the size of a walnut to float on top. I hope my visit to Porto Rico may be productive of some good in teaching the waiters in the café how to fill up a glass with cracked ice and let the liquid fill in the intestices.
    They were making and serving "American cocktails," which seemed to be in great demand, but there was nothing tempting in a little glass of brownish liquid served with a silver spoon to stir it up. It was positively necessary in that climate to have some cooling drink.

    There is no denying that San Juan is outrageously hot. I think it is the hottest place I ever saw, though I have been much nearer the Equator. We were in a constant state of moisture, and after being on shore the steward always had to hang our clothes out to dry before they could be put away. Yet this was the coolest season of the year, and the natives considered it unpleasantly cold, and wrapped themselves well if they went out at night...

    While in the café Mr. Friedlander found himself so overburdened with wealth that he was compelled to ask the Captain to help him carry it. He had had $50 worth of commercial paper cashed, and all the proceeds were two big rolls of Mexican silver pesos and a double handful of American dimes and quarters, all with holes in them. This is the coin of the country, and poor enough coin it is. Mexican dollars are ragged and shapeless enough when fresh from the mint, but these are all well worn. American dimes and quarters pass readily, provided they have holes in them. The more they are defaced the better they go, and I did not see more than two American coins on the island without holes. They tell me the Government defaces the coins to keep them in circulation on the island, because after being punched they will not pass elsewhere. An American dollar is worth from $1.17 to $1.20 in Mexican silver, but it must be gold, our notes are almost unknown.

    From the café we went further up the hill to the American Consulate. Col. Stewart, the Consul, is in America, having come home last Fall to vote, and not having yet returned. His Secretary, Mr. Hayden, another Virginian, is acting as Consul during his absence, and we found him installed in a large and airy room wtih a very high ceiling, almost on the top of the hill. With him was another American, Mr. Holt, who is initiating the Porto Ricans into the mysteries of life insurance. Mr. Holt had recently returned from a horseback trip among the mountains, and had brought with him an ample supply of very fine native cigars, some of which we immediately helped him to dispose of. As the American residents of Porto Rico may almost be counted on the fingers, and as American vessels seldom visit St. John, our Consul's chief duty is to hoist the Stars and Stripes on Sundays and holidays. Both Col. Stewart and Mr. Hayden are noted in Porto Rico for their good American hospitality.

    About the streets were posted notices of an opera to be given in the theatre on the evening of "Sabado, Noviembre 29," and as that was the evening then approaching, we returned to the ship in time to eat dinner and prepare for a first appearance in the theatre of San Juan. This theatre is an imposing building as seen from the outside, fully as large as most of our New-York theatres. In the three cities of Porto Rico the theatre is a great institution, being the only means of amusement. Without any permantent native companies. they all manage to have two or three performances a week throughout the year, companies coming both from Cuba and from Spain. The performers in the present instance were from Havana, and they had been in Porto Rico for some two months, playing in all the large towns. Nobody would have recognized us, certainly, as belonging to a freight ship, when we went on shore in grand style at about 8 o'clock for the opera. Supercargo Maloney when arrayed in his black clothes and white tie had a decidedly clerical appearance; Mr. Friedlander might easily have been mistaken for a professor from some of the German universities, and the Captain and I looked as respectable as the weather permitted. I think the steward felt quite proud of us as we went down the ship's ladder.
    We occupied a box, of course--our position as ship's officers would admit of nothing less. The theatre we found very clean and well kept, something that cannot always be said of theatres in that part of the world. It is the best theatrical building in the West Indies except the famous Tacon Theatre in Havana. The only exciting event of th evening was when, in the utter absence of applause, we four determined to applaud the next thing that happened, whatever it might be. This we did with great enthusiasm--but without other effect upon the audience than to attract all eyes to our box. Both performers and audience were as solemn throughout as if they were in a church, except on two or three occasions, when the language of the libretto was broad enough to cause a laugh. Happily, our ears were not shocked by anything indelicate, as we could not understand it. The theatre was less than half full; Sunday night is the only night that can bring out the fashion of San Juan.

    It was a great relief to get back to the ship after the heat of the city, and have a comfortable smoke on deck before turning in. On the way out in the small boat we were challenged by the guard on a small Spanish ram that lay at anchor, under the impression probably that we were carrying away the theatre or Town Hall, but the boatman satisfied him by replying, "El vapor," the steamer, and we were allowed to proceed. There were armed guards, too, at the city gates and in front of the theatre. Porto Rico, like Cuba, is overrun with Spanish soldiers. Every soldier, every officer, every petty little official, even down to the Custom House inspectors, is imported from Spain, and Porto Rico has to support them. Nobody on the island is allowed to keep a boat, not even a rowboat, without a license; and only a Spaniard can get a license. The rest of them have to induce some Spanish friend to take out the license for them, in his own name.

    Sunday is, of course, the great day of the week, when all the flags are flying and every amusement known to the island is in operation. The business places are all open withing certain hours, many of them all day. Clerks and shopkeepers have a hard time of it, the shops being open from 6 or 7 in the morning till 9 or 10 at night, Sundays and all. Their only play days are the church holidays, which fortunately for them come pretty often. Everything, of course, is Roman Catholic, there being only one small Protestant church on the island. But the Church is of small account in Porto Rico. Some women and children are still numbered among the faithful, but the men pay little attention to it, beyond observing the holidays and taking care that the priests do not visit their houses too often during business hours. This is not, I think, so much on account of a lack of religious feeling among the people as because the Church is an old Spanish institution, and they are unalterably opposed to all things Spanish.

    There is so little communication between Porto Rico and the United States that the island is very little known to us, and its importance is vastly underestimated. It has a population of over 800,000, which is much greater than the population of any other West Indies island except Cuba. In the richness and fertility of its soil it is superior to Cuba or Jamaica. It raises as good tobacco as Cuba, as good sugar, and far better coffee. The harbor of San Juan is always busy. There were a number of steamers in port when we arrived, and fully a dozen came in and went off again in the three days we were there. Among these was one of the handsomest steamships I ever saw, our great Atlantic liners not excepted, the Alphonse XIII., with 1,600 passengers on board, bound for Cuba. This vessel is 6,000 to 7,000 tons, and her interior fittings I believe to be the finest afloat. I was taken all over her by her very obliging officers, and shall have more to say about her next week. Among the other steamers in port on Sunday morning was a fine large iron one flying the British flag, and as soon as I saw her I asked Capt. Godfree what she was.
    "She is one of the Windward Island steamers, the Caribbee," he replied, "of the Quebec Line."
    I always claim a cousinship with any vessel of the Quebec Line, wherever found, for they are my old friends of Bermuda and Trinidad; and I immediately hazarded a guess that her Captain's name was Fraser. It was a safe guess, for the Quebec Line Captains are nearly all Frasers.
    "You are right," Capt. Godfree replied, "It is Capt. Fraser, and he is to sail for New-York tomorrow."
    It was instantly settled that we should pay Capt. Fraser a visit in the afternoon.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1891 was equivalent to $22.88 in 2007.

The New York Times, May 15, 1898, p. 16:


History and Characteristics of the Spanish Colony Attacked by Sampson's Fleet.


Mineral Wealth and Productive Soil of Which the Spaniards Have Failed to Take Advantage--Exports and Imports.

    PHILADELPHIA, May 13.--Prof. Wilson of the Philadelphia Museum has prepared some data about Puerto Rico, including much that has never been published before. His paper is in part as follows:

    Puerto Rico is the most eastern of the Greater Antilles in the West Indies. On the east the Lesser Antilles sweep in a great bow toward Trinidad, on the South American coast, inclosing the Caribbean Sea. Of these St. Thomas, a Danish island and coaling station, is of great strategic importance. It is southwest from the capital of Puerto Rico, about ninety miles away. A strait of seventy miles separates the island from Haiti on the west. The distances of San Juan from other strategical points are: 2,100 miles to Cape Verde Islands, 1,050 miles to Key West, and 1,420 miles to Hampton Roads.

    The island is a parallelogram in general outline, 108 miles from the east to the west, and from 37 to 43 miles across, and it has an area computed at 3,530 square miles, or not quite half that of New Jersey. The population in 1887 numbered 798,565, of whom 474,933 were white, 246,647 milattoes, and 76,905 negroes. Slavery was abolished in 1873, three years after the colony was declared to be a representative province of Spain...

    Puerto Rico was sighted by Columbus on the 16th of November, 1493. Three days later he anchored in the bay, the description of which corresponds to that of Mayagues. In 1510 and 1511 Ponce de Leon visited the island and founded a settlement, and gave it the name San Juan Bautista.

    Buccaneers and pirates harassed its coasts and plundered the people during a large part of the eighteenth century. Landings were effected by the English in 1702 ad Arecibo, in 1743 at Ponce, and in 1797 at the capital, but each time they were repulsed by the Spaniards... Its principal exports are sugar, coffee, and tobacco...

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